Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Question about reviewing etiquette

I am currently reviewing a paper. The experiment and results are great, this discussion is pretty good, but there is one fairly serious problem. A lot of the writing is terrible. The sentence construction is not what English speakers would consider to be correct. Several parts, especially in the intro and discussion, are really quite hard to read.

None of the authors are native English speakers. Neither is the handling editor. As any of you who are regular readers must know, tact is not one of my strong points. So I was wondering if any of y’all have tips as to the best way to address English language problems in the review process.

Should I print out a second copy just to “annotate” for readability?
At what point do annotations become too dense to be legible?
At what point does reviewing turn into rewriting, and where in that continuum do toes get stepped on?

What other options are there?

6 comments:

CJR said...

I've had this problem before - although in that case one of the authors was a native English speaker who had clearly not read the manuscript (at least, I hope not), so I have more sympathy with your guys.

It's certainly not your job to proof-read for them; you could just say that the writing is unclear in places, highlighting a couple of examples where the poor English obscures the point of the study/the importance of the results, and suggest that they get it properly proofed by someone who has English as a first language. If you're saying nice things about the paper otherwise, you can cast it as 'ensuring that these important results are properly understood within the field'.

James Annan said...

So I was wondering if any of y’all have tips as to the best way to address English language problems in the review process.

Tell them the English is crap (and needs improving before the paper can be considered publishable). Job's a good'un. Put your feet up and have a beer.

:-)

Kate said...

You can absolutely request that they undergo extensive editing by a native English speaker. I've seen journals that say that kind of thing is ok to say in reviews.

B said...

I agree with Kate. I'm not a native English speaker, and I would find it perfectly acceptable for reviewers to make the point that the text needs to be copy-edited by a native speaker of English. Of course, it can be made in more or less polite ways, but I don't think the point in it self should insult anybody.
And *you* shouldn't do the editing. There are plenty of companies offering to edit academic papers (quickly, and at a reasonable price). If you want, you might point out what sections are particularly unintelligible, but there is no reason you should spend your time on the details.

EliRabett said...

One of my ambitions when I retire is to organize American speaking undergrads to offer help to such folk. The undergrads (with supervision) would learn some science, the scientists would get a better paper. Everyone would get new friends.

Otherwise, you can re-write it (I've done that) or tell the authors to offer a native English speaker a few beers.

CJR said...

organize American speaking undergrads to offer help to such folk.

My experience of the writing of English undergrads suggests that just because they speak it doesn't mean they can write it.

Besides, we all know that Americans can't spell ('colour'? 'organize'? 'sulfur'? 'paleomagnetism'?).